Sports

Long rods then and now 7

The Dean River begins life on the rugged  Ilgachuz Range. From there it flows north around the Rainbow Range before meeting salt water at Kimsquit, half the way between the mouth of the Fraser and the mouth of the Skeena. Considered the world’s premier river for summer run steelhead, the Dean attracts anglers from all over the globe.

In the early 1980s, Jim Vincent was one of them.

While there, the avid American angler  met some British fishermen, and was intrigued by their long double handed rods. Vincent recognized the advantages such rods would afford steelheaders. He set out on a mission to learn how to operate a two handed rod.

On a trip to the Kispiox, he had serendipitous encounter with another Brit, in this case the gentleman was Simon Gawesworth, a virtuoso with a two handed salmon rod and famous casting teacher.

Our Southern neighbours excel at innovating and marketing. Vincent is a good example. Like John Hazel, he was sure there was a way to build lines for double handed rods that would make Spey casting easier and, therefore, more accessible to the average fisher. While Hazel was building custom made lines and selling them for a price that reflected the amount of effort that went into making them—a price that put them out of the range of all but the rich and the obsessed—Jim Vincent was developing a way to mass produce custom built Spey lines.

In 1990 he founded a small company and aptly chose the Spanish name for river as its name. Rio’s first Spey dedicated lines were The Windcutter and The Accelerator. I bought one of the latter. It came with a couple of extensions, that I discarded after my first outing with the line.

Even after that modification, I couldn’t make the line turn over in what I considered an acceptable manner until I chopped a length of line from the tip. The mutilated line cast as well as a double taper, but no better. It had a tough finish though. I fished it for years after that. When I finally took it off my reel to make way for another experimental line, it was still in good shape.

Unimpressed with The Accelerator,  I borrowed a friend’s windcutter, and was even less impressed. The line was reminiscent of those rocket tapers, front end loaded heads attached to thin running line that didn’t work well with my traditional casting approach, which involved picking up all the line ahead of the rod tip and casting that length again. Still, the lines obviously worked for those who cast differently, and they were a necessary step in the evolution of the contemporary Spey lines.

For years, Steelheaders had been splicing loops on the ends of short lengths of fly lines and attaching them to their similarly looped tips of their floating lines. Rio was the first to perfect and standardize this process for mass consumption.

They called these VersiTip Lines, and they were extraordinarily good. Unlike our home made sink tips, Rio’s cast beautifully with tips that sank at 3, 6, and even 8 inches per second. They are still among the finest lines for single and or double handed rods on the market today.

To sell more product, Vincent and Gawesworth became Spey casting evangelists, producing videos, booklets, books, and articles on the joys and benefits of the craft all the while augmenting those with demonstrations and clinics. By the turn of the century the majority of steelhead anglers were pursuing their quarry with two handed rods—thanks, in large measure, to the proselytizing of Gawesworth, Vincent and Vincent’s steelheading countrymen.

There is a persistent myth that anglers need big flies to catch big fish like steelhead. A variation on this idea is that big flies are the most effective way to catch steelhead in frigid winter rivers.

If this was true, I’m hard pressed to explain why over a hundred steelhead took a pink piece of latex the size of a dime when I floated it over them over the fall and winter of 1984.

Similarly, float fishermen of yore, who, day in and day out, hooked far more steelhead than the best fly casters, favoured lures like a tuft of fluorescent green yarn the size of their baby fingernail.

If big flies aren’t really required in winter steelheading, fast sinking lines will save the day on may occasions. After fishing with Ed Ward, Scott O’Donnell, and Mike McCune one winter and trying their home made lines, Vincent laboured to produce a line that was eventually named for the  great salmon river that rises in Manning Park and flows into the Pacific on the Washington coast. The Skagit Line powered out heavy heads and heavy flies and, more importantly from a marketing perspective at least, it made Spey casting easier.

Concluded next week...

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